TONY MELTON: Tactics for the battle of weeds

July 30, 2018

Because it is too blessed hot to pull them, weeds take over this time of year. Give a weed an inch and it will be the ruler. Nice neat beds in the spring become a literal mess this time of year. Don’t be ashamed, it happens to everyone; even your county agent sometimes has to step back, and come up with a strategy to fight those persistent invaders. Thank goodness Tommy Taylor stopped by my office Tuesday and helped me pull the weeds out of the bed in front of my office.

For instance, many vegetable/fruit farmers and homeowners alike use plastic mulch or weed-barrier cloth to shade out and prevent weed growth. In addition, here are a few suggestions to take back your yard from the weeds. First, don’t overdo anything including fertilizing, irrigation, or tilling. Put the fertilizer and irrigation water only when and where it is needed. Extra fertilizer and water between ornamental plants encourages weed growth. This is why I love trickle irrigation in a high-tech yard and hand watering in a low-tech yard. With trickle you can add fertilizer (fertigation) and water just to the roots of a plant and not the weeds.

Most of the time we should be side-dressing (where the fertilizer is placed just where it is needed) and not broadcasting (where the fertilizer is arbitrarily spread over the entire area). However, be careful, either apply a slow-release fertilizer or apply only a small amount of regular fertilizer at one time (spoon feeding) and don’t apply too much fertilizer or glob a lot of fertilizer at the trunk or main stem of a plant.

In fact, it is getting toward the fall and getting a little late to be applying much fertilizer to grass, trees, and shrubs. Also, believe it or not, tilling may kill weeds but it also brings weed seed to the surface so they can germinate and come up. For less weed growth and healthy plants, always mulch to keep down tilling.

Next, an herbicide is anything that will kill plants and if used properly by the label directions will help you get back your yard. However, if I were a flower, shrub, or tree my worst nightmare would be a weed-crazed, sprayer-nozzle-pointing, spreader-slinging homeowner intent to kill those yard invaders. There is no Mulligan (like in golf) here and after you have put it out saying “Uh Oh” doesn’t help so “Read and follow all label directions and most of all think before you apply.” Some of my favorite herbicidal tactics are:

1. Using a grass killer containing Sethoxydim or Clethodim to kill grass only. These products are labeled to spray over the top of many plants including shrubs, trees, flowers, vegetables, and even some types of lawn grass. I use them to keep my very invasive Bermuda grass lawn from taking over my flower beds.

2. Using a funnel taped to my sprayer nozzle to keep down drift of herbicides or using a paintbrush, roller, hand wick, etc., for exact application without killing nearby plants.

3. Using a pre-emergent herbicide to prevent weed seed from germinating and growing is always a good first-line of defense.

Next, when weeds get out of hand, don’t forget the weed-eater or the lawn mower. They may not totally annihilate weeds but will keep them suppressed. I have even seen larger growers mow between the rows of vegetables.

Finally, if you cannot beat them join them. I have always said “A wildflower is a well-placed weed.” Planting things like wildflowers may cover or overcome many weed problems. However, many people still consider them more like weeds than flowers. So if you don’t want your neighbors complaining don’t plant them in your entire front yard like one of my Master Gardeners.

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer. Email Melton at amelton@clemson.edu.

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